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Election Watch Issue 16 - 2013
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
April 20, 2013
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speech poisons pre-election environment
never far from the editorial pages of some sections of Zimbabwe’s
media, has returned with a vengeance in recent weeks.
The arrest and
harassment by the authorities of MDC-T officials and others, and
the response to these events by civil society and the international
community, have apparently sparked these latest outbursts.
This was reflected
by the proliferation of hate language, mostly in reports and on
the opinion pages of the government-controlled state newspapers.
In March alone,
for example, there were 14 articles in these state-controlled papers
that contained abusive, intimidating, intolerant and false commentary
against human rights defenders, mainly those figures and institutions
in civil society, and particularly against human rights lawyer Beatrice
Mtetwa. Others to fall victim of this onslaught included those critical
of Zanu-PF policies, among them Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.
Mtetwa was arrested
and detained on March 17th for allegedly obstructing the course
of justice and insulting police officers when she attended the scene
of a police raid on the Prime Minister’s Belgravia offices
where four MDC-T officials were arrested and subsequently charged
with impersonating police officers.
At the same
time, the state-owned Herald carried a series of stories undermining
the reputation of High Court Judge Justice Charles Hungwe and the
Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).
In the case
of Justice Hungwe, The Herald stories allegedly exposed what it
quoted unidentified “experts” and commentators describing
as “gross incompetence” or “criminal negligence”.
This initially referred to a story the paper carried claiming the
judge had failed to sentence a man he had convicted of murder and
armed robbery 10 years ago and who was still languishing in remand
This story followed
hard on the heels of the news about the judge’s decision to
grant the anti-corruption commission warrants to search the offices
of three Zanu-PF ministers, specifically, Indigenization Minister,
Saviour Kasukuwere, Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu, and Transport Minister
In all, the
paper carried six news stories related to the judge’s alleged
irregular conduct and four critical opinion pieces that also attacked
Mtetwa and ZACC’s commissioners. Notably, the Judicial Services
Commission was reported as raising questions about columnists “maligning”
a member of the judiciary. But later, after Justice Minister Patrick
Chinamasa had submitted a report to the President on Justice Hungwe’s
conduct, The Herald carried another news story (15/4) reminding
its readers that the law states President Mugabe has no option but
to institute an inquiry into the judge’s conduct.
16 news reports of irregular activity at the anti-corruption commission
also emerged after Judge Hungwe had granted the watchdog search
warrants for the offices of three Zanu-PF ministers.
the paper reported on the “transfer” of ZACC’s
chairman of commissioners and of allegedly corrupt and irregular
activities at the commission.
In one of the
four critical opinion pieces The Herald and its sister paper, The
Sunday Mail, carried on the attempts by ZACC to investigate the
activities of the three ministers (Sunday Mail 27/3), Reserve Bank
Governor, Gideon Gono, was named as the source of information and
was accused of feeding this to the four MDC-T officials arrested
and detained on charges of impersonating police officers. They were
accused of collecting information and compiling “dockets”
on the activities of the three ministries and feeding the information
In this way
the state newspapers implicated Justice Hungwe in what their opinion
writers described as a conspiracy to discredit the ministries under
investigation, and of “collaborating” with Mtetwa’s
defence counsel to have the human rights lawyer released on bail
at an urgent hearing at midnight held at the judge’s farm.
In its news report (27/3) The Herald suggested the circumstances
in which the bail order was granted was highly irregular, citing
“the absence of an official from the Attorney-General’s
the state newspapers carried 23 news stories related to these events
and 11 editorial opinion pieces and so-called news analysis. MMPZ
judged that as many as 14 of these stories contained elements of
hate speech where abusive and offensive language was used to reinforce
their perception that the players in these events had contributed
to destroying their own reputations and deserved the criticism.
Part of the
definition of hate language is its intention to excite hostility
and public contempt for those individuals or groups who are its
targets. Once this has been achieved it is easier to suggest the
victims no longer deserve to have their basic human rights protected.
With the help
of its unidentified “analysts”, “experts”,
“sources” and commentators, the state Press –
and especially The Herald – set itself up as the investigators,
judge and jury in their pursuit of dismantling Justice Hungwe’s
reputation, and those of Beatrice Mtetwa, Gideon Gono and the ZACC
these anonymous voices in their news pages, Zanu-PF’s Politburo
member Jonathan Moyo, The Herald’s political editor Caesar
Zvayi and columnist Panganai Kahuni, acted as the main architects
of this campaign in the opinion and analysis columns of the state
papers, supported by UZ
lecturer Charity Manyeruke and Gabriel Chaibva, another ZANU PF
acolyte who defected from the MDC-T.
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